MONTVALE, N.J. (Aug. 8, 2000) -- For Bruce McCaw, building a successful telecommunications company, obtaining a Lear Jet captain's license and founding a successful Champ Car race team were easy compared to buying a car - one particular car, that is.
Entrepreneur McCaw proved his business acumen by building highly successful telecommunications and aviation enterprises. He founded the PacWest Racing Champ Car team with Mercedes-Benz drivers Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell, and serves on the board of directors for Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), the sanctioning body for the FedEx Championship Series.
But buying back his very first automobile, a Mercedes-Benz 220SE four-door sedan, was a deal that took 33 years to complete.
It was McCaw's passionate interest in cars and racing that led him to purchase the ivory 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220SE in 1962 for $1,500. The 220SE model enjoyed great success in the European Rally championships in the early 1960s, and became the precursor to Mercedes' flagship S-Class sedan line.
"I won several rallies with it while I was in high school, including the Rally Northwest, a 12-hour rally around Seattle," said McCaw. "It was a comfortable car to drive during those long rallies, and very powerful because of the fuel injection system. And it handled really well. It was just a superb automobile. I grew pretty attached to it." McCaw reluctantly sold the car five years later to a close friend, who was equally infatuated with it and prevailed upon McCaw to sell it to him. Several years later, the car was sold again, and disappeared.
"Then, in 1990, I went to the concours in Forest Grove, Oregon," said McCaw. "I saw a 220SE drive in, and I was certain it was the same one I had owned. I found the owner, and started telling him about all of its little idiosyncrasies * where I'd modified the car for rallying * like the mounts under the floor mats for the shoulder harnesses, and the wiring for the driving lamps. At first, he didn't believe me, but after we went over the whole car together he understood that I really had owned this particular Mercedes." It took a lot of persistence - and 10 more years - to get the car back.
"I called the owner every six months, asking to buy the car. Finally, he agreed that if he ever did sell it, I would get the right of first refusal. Then, last year, we agreed on a price -- $10,000. Once I had a price, it was just a matter of motivating him to sell." McCaw sent the owner a letter along with a check, including an additional $1,000 if the owner turned the car over by New Year's Eve.
"The guy called me the next day," McCaw said. "He said, 'Come and get the car.'"
More than three decades had passed, but the Mercedes is back in McCaw's garage. It joins other vintage Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the entrepreneur's collection, including a 300SC Cabriolet, a rare 1954 300SL "Gullwing," a 1986 300E that McCaw drove in the "One Lap of America" rally and the very first high-performance E55 AMG sedan sold in the United States. But this particular automobile will always hold a unique place in its owner's heart.
"Of all the cars you ever own," said McCaw, "only one can be the first. Your first love is always extra special."
Rally Reigns Supreme
Mercedes-Benz has a rich history in long-distance automotive rallying with the production 220SE. In its first effort, Mercedes swept the podium at the prestigious 1960 Monte Carlo rally and eventually won the championship. In the Gran Premio Standard of Argentina in 1961, 207 cars were entered, but only 47 completed the arduous 2,765-mile event. Mercedes-Benz 220SEs captured first and second place en route to several dominating victories that year. In 1962, Mercedes driver Eugen Bohringer won three rallies and was the undisputed champion.
In a Yugoslavia rally that year, Bohringer proved he was as quick and durable as his Mercedes. When a disabled truck and several large boulders blocked the road, Bohringer assessed the situation and realized that detouring would cost him any chance of victory. "So I backed up about 200 yards and gunned it right in between," said Bohringer. "There were no doors left on the car after that, but we made it through." And won.*
*The Star and the Laurel, Beverly Rae Kimes, 1986